Future Focus: Envisioning The Possibilities Ahead

Every year in October I have the pleasure of participating in the CEO of the Year Gala sponsored by Chief Executive Group. This year’s winner was Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce. His acceptance speech was both refreshing and inspiring – as was the moderated discussion he had with last year’s winner, Ken Frazier, former CEO of Merck. As part of the event, I participate in a CEO roundtable discussion with a theme that I help shape. The theme this year was envisioning possible futures. It was a great conversation captured in this article that was just launched by Chief Executive Group. I highly recommend this read. The article provides a view into what CEOs are thinking – with a series of quotes from the session – like the one below.

“We’re dealing with unpredictable change, but also rapid change, or what I’ll call high-torque change.”

Fred Hassan, Partner, Warburg Pincus

Exploring Possible Economic Futures

In the interest of exploring possible economic futures, I have read books on Modern Monetary Theory, Zero Marginal Cost, The Job Guarantee, and several others. Add to the list the most recent book I finished, How Capitalism Ends. Viewed through the lens of property rights, wealth, and the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, author Steve Paxton uses an effective method of storytelling: start with history and then explore possible futures. The book is setup by two thesis: the development and the primacy thesis. What he describes helps us understand the “why” behind the future that is emerging.

  • Humans are sufficiently intelligent to be able to improve their material situation, and sufficiently rational to be disposed to do so, given their historical situation of scarcity
  • As technology develops, different types of economic organization suit different levels of technological development. (A slave society might be suitable for building aqueducts or keeping the Picts at bay, but it’s not particularly conducive to the invention of spreadsheets or the development of ABS braking systems.)

Paxton, Steve. How Capitalism Ends (pp. 10-11). John Hunt Publishing

According to Paxton, implications are spawned from the thesis. He lists them as follows:

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Scenario Planning Thoughts From Futurist Peter Schwartz

Are you curious, imaginative, and collaborative? If so, you have what it takes to be a scenario planner. This brilliant video via Peter Schwartz is a must see.

The Final Stages Of The Fourth Turning

It was 2019 when I finished a book titled The Fourth Turning. I found myself referring to it a couple of weeks ago during a conversation about the cycles of history. I went back to the book after our discussion given the many changes the world experienced since I added it to my library. The repeated cycles of history described by the book remain both fascinating and ominous.

First comes a High, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an Unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.

Frank Diana – adapted from the book “The Fourth Turning”

Read that description of the historical cycles carefully. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly eighty to one hundred years. Now, let’s trace the current cycle back in time – quoted right from the book – keeping in mind that the book was written in 1997.

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What Role Did Geography Play In The Past – And What Does It Mean For The Future?

Another recent article explores the factors that drove civilization success. The article – along with a number of recent books – looks for historical signals that aid in our understanding of the future. In this case, the focus is geography, which the article positions as the reason both individuals and civilizations are the way they are today. If history informs our views of possible futures, then according to the article, geography has influenced history more than any other factor. The author uses Japan as an example.

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A Reimagining The Future Presentation

I have the pleasure of speaking in various forums about the future. It is a fascinating time to be focused on illuminating the path forward, as the pace, uncertainty, and complexity of our times makes it very challenging. This short three-minute video describes my reimagining the future presentation.

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The Journey Of Humanity

Since the dawn of the nineteenth century, a split second compared to the span of human existence, life expectancy has more than doubled, and per capita incomes have soared twenty-fold in the most developed regions of the world, and fourteen-fold on Planet Earth as a whole

Oded Galor – The Journey of Humanity

That quote comes from a book I just finished titled The Journey of Humanity. Author Oded Galor explores the origins of wealth and inequality. He takes a fascinating journey from our migration out of Africa, through the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions, to modern day. Along the way, he describes how technological advancements and higher land productivity led to larger but not richer populations. The fact that standard of living improvement only occurred during a tiny stretch of recent human history – and the reasons why – are explored in detail. A somewhat perplexing fact that hunter-gatherers evidently lived longer, consumed a richer diet, worked less intensively, and suffered fewer infectious diseases, is echoed in the book titled Work by James Suzman.

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A Focus On “What If?” Versus “What Now?”

A quote from a recent book The Genesis Machine captures the importance of focusing on the future. “If we encourage ‘what if?’ questions today, we can avoid ‘what now?’ questions in the future.” As far as I am concerned, that quote says it all. Rehearsing the future is complex, given the uncertainty and volatility of the environment. Signals emerge from multiple domains, and they converge in ways that shape futures. As we identify signals, ‘what if?’ questions help us explore the possibilities.

Multiple sources exist that help with rehearsing. One such source is a what if YouTube channel. This channel has a large subscriber base and covers a broad range of topics like, space, humanity, environment, health, and others. Exploring these what if scenarios helps us expand our thinking, open our minds, and challenge our cherished beliefs – as highlighted in the quote above.

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The Future Of Mobility

In one of my posts from a recent series titled A Journey through the Looking Glass, I focused on the complexity, uncertainty, and volatility of our current environment. Although this dynamic makes it difficult to envision possible futures, the “Future of” question is a growing focus among leaders around the world. While many themes have emerged, mobility is a common topic of discussion. Current conversations are dominated by electric vehicles, batteries, and charging infrastructure. However, the future of mobility is much bigger than our current focus.

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The Journey: Living In Times Of Transition

In the wrap-up to my series titled “A Journey through the Looking Glass”, I will cover why this story is so important to me personally. As was described throughout the series, we live in a time of considerable change. A period that in my view only has a few historical precedents. I could be completely wrong, as I am not a believer in prediction – but the risk is too high to ignore. Through the years, as I have told versions of this story, I sensed that my audience felt no compelling reason to act. They had low levels of urgency when compared to challenges they faced day-to-day. It was that lack of urgency that pushed me towards more effective storytelling to change perception.

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The Journey: Dual Paths Of Innovation

In a continuation of my series titled “A Journey through the Looking Glass”, I will touch on two historical paths of innovation. The post picks up from the last one where I explored the building blocks of the future.

THE DUAL PATHS OF INNOVATION

Two major forces are likely to converge in very unpredictable ways. First, the road to abundance described by Peter Diamandis promises to advance our human development in ways not previously thought possible. At the same time, our journey will face several unintended consequences. The intersection of these two forces underscores the importance of focusing on emerging scenarios now, thus enabling human development and mitigating the risk of these unintended consequences.

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The Journey: Our Complex, Uncertain, And Volatile Future

My previous posts launched a series that will tell the full story of a reimagined future. Described as a journey through the looking glass, the story began with a series description and a look back in time. The series continues, with each post featuring a piece of our journey. We explored the potential for a phase transition in the last post. In this post, I will now explore the complexity, volatility, and uncertainty that inhibits our ability to envision the future.

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The Journey: An Historical Perspective

My previous post launched a series that will tell the full story of my reimagined future. Described as a journey through the looking glass, the story began with a description of the series title and a look backward in time. This second post in the series will add to that historical perspective. Each subsequent post will feature a piece of our journey.  

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A Journey Through The Looking Glass

In the last ten years, as my focus expanded, a story about the future emerged. If I were to write a book to capture that story, I would call it A Journey through the Looking Glass (like the name of the leadership course I developed in 2017). My presentations are the vehicle for this type of storytelling, while my Blog captures the story in pieces. Now, as we find ourselves in the early stages of a transformative decade, I feel compelled to pull the pieces together through the written word as well. My next several posts will be dedicated to telling this story. Here are the other posts in the series to date:

Second Post: An Historical Perspective

Third Post : A Growth Of Knowledge

Fourth Post: Our Current World Order

Fifth Post: Convergence Drives Human Advancement

Sixth Post: Catalysts Of The Past And Those On The Horizon

Seventh Post: A Phase Transition

Eight Post: Our Complex, Uncertain, And Volatile Future

Ninth Post: The Building Blocks Of The Future

Tenth Post: Dual Paths Of Innovation

Eleventh Post: The Next Phase Of Human Development

Twelfth Post: The Journey: A World Of Ecosystems

Thirteenth Post: A Great Reset

Conclusion: Living In Times Of Transition

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Signals To Watch for In 2022

Understanding possible futures is all about signals – and there is no shortage of them. A dominant conversation these days is focused on how to sense these signals, derive foresight, and respond. While foresight helps us see possible futures, the next challenge is moving from a high degree of uncertainty to some level of actionable certainty. That step in the process is a combination of science and art. Signals manifest themselves through the current and emerging building blocks that shape our future – and they are coming at us from every corner of society. Since I don’t believe in prediction, I will focus my year-end post on signals to look for in 2022 across four key areas.

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The Changing World Order

Ray Dalio is the Co-Chief Investment Officer & Chairman of Bridgewater Associates, In making decisions, he has found history to be very instructive. This is a recurring theme that I write about often, as I view history as a key source of signals. I’ve included links that explore these signals below. In exploring possible futures, it is helpful to understand the patterns of history – and they really do rhyme. In the book The Fourth Turning, the authors describe what the cycles of history tells us about our next rendezvous with destiny. What intrigued me as a Futurist is the claim by the books authors that our past can indeed predict our future – it’s a compelling argument when viewed through the lens of these historical cycles.

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RethinkX: Crashing Up, Crashing Down – Two Dystopias 

In this seventh installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe the choices that lie ahead, as convergence across five foundational sectors drive a phase change: energy, transport, information, food, and materials. With this convergence, the old industrial system could collapse before the new production system emerges. One need only look at existing timing issues as the energy sector transitions. Supply of fossil fuel drops along with investment, while demand increases and clean sources of energy cannot meet demand. In a shift so profound, it may be impossible to imagine what it looks like. The power of this storytelling lies in its ability to illuminate possibilities and drive awareness – and with it, the hope for human action. Similar brilliant storytelling can be found in the new book AI 2041.

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AI 2041: Ten Visions For Our Future

In a recent post on quantum computing, I referenced a new book (published in September 2021) that I recently added to my library. The book titled AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future was authored by Kai-Fu Lee  and Chen Qiufan. The authors use highly effective approach that combined fiction with expert analysis to help the reader imagine possible futures. The storytelling was brilliant (my compliments Chen Qiufan), and Kai-Fu Lee provides analysis after each story, showcasing his grasp of AI and its possible applications.

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RethinkX: The Growth and Collapse of Industrial Civilization

In this fourth installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a civilization that now stands at the precipice. We lose sight of the fact that we invented the political and economic systems of our time. When the organizing system is no longer suited for a new era, we have the power to reinvent. Reinvention however requires a willingness to look beyond our current beliefs, institutions, and mental models. If we view this phase transition through our traditional lens, our solutions will fall short. The power of this video series lies in its ability to illuminate the size of the challenge. This is not a story of disruption, this is nothing short of a phase transition between eras.

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RethinkX: Repeating The Patterns Of History

In a brilliant third installment of an eight part series, RethinkX explores the lessons of history. In analyzing the patterns from the age of extraction, the video zeros in on the cycles of history and the warning signals that should be flashing bright red. History is very instructive – but if we do not learn from it, we are destined to make the same mistakes. Consider for example the eerie similarities between the 1920s and our current day:

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